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Pushing The Boundaries: Robbie J. Atkinson Talks About Filmmaking and 'Kalimba'

1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your cinematic background. How did you learn filmmaking? And is Kalimba your first work?

Kalimba was really a major turning point for me as a filmmaker. I got both my Master of the Arts (‘18) and Bachelors of the Arts (‘16) from Georgia State University and also studied the Director’s Track through Sundance Institute. In college, I spent the majority of my time learning about film theory and script writing. I also studied abroad in South Korea (‘15) and even studied Korean Cinema at Hanyang University long before the famous series Squid Games or the feature Parasite had even debuted. From 2019 to 2023, I had done commercial shoots for local businesses and artists through my company RPX Media Production as well as freelance work in the Kpop industry as a videographer. That work was wildly different, with constant use of experimental visual effects, gaudy, colorful lighting and ultimately relying on our clients to approve the final draft. Kalimba was my narrative directorial debut but not exactly my first film altogether.

2. How was the original idea of Kalimba formed and further developed? Kalimba started off as an idea that my late father and I tossed around during a walk on the beach one year. He joked about how few Hollywood films explored spirituality, folklore and horror stories from other cultures–namely Jamaican culture. Eventually, he and I co-wrote a draft of Kalimba and bounced ideas off of one another until he passed. After that, I revisited the script and refined it until I was content–taking a segment of the feature script and using it as the basis of the proof-of-concept that is Kalimba today.

3. Tell us about casting Raiany Silva and Roy Coulter and working with them. How did you work with them on the characters and practice in the formation of these characters?

The casting of both of their characters was actually fairly simple. I casted a wide net, selected a few and auditioned even fewer. A total of 949 actors and actresses responded to our online postings. I had all of the actors/actresses attend a table reading and rehearsal where we broke down the script together and addressed their motivations from a technical standpoint. Then, I had a day where Sheila, Joana and Raiany practiced discerning their characters through various artwork that I presented. From Ukioyo-e paintings to Realism and even improvisation of their personalities in various tension-filled scenarios.

4. In general, how much freedom of action and influence do you give to the actors of your film in the process of filmmaking?

I was flexible with my cast and allowed freedom of action based whomever seemed to request it. For example, Sheila actually came prepared with several interpretations of “Mom” during her audition and we utilized takes from all three versions to pull together a concise and callous character in the final product. Raiany and Roy were more oriented to sticking by the book so I let them–the goal was to be sure that everyone felt confident and comfortable going into each character.

5. Considering that you are the writer, producer and director of this work, please tell us about the difficulties of independent productions?

Honestly, multitasking was quite a challenge but I’m extremely grateful to have had such a large team behind me. Our previous works had a smaller team– sometimes with no more than five crew members on site. So, working on a project where I had nearly twenty crew members, five production assistants and six cast members was an amazing experience. I would say that, more specifically, casting was difficult for me because I didn’t have a casting director helping with the logistical set-up. I posted the listings, filtered the talent, rented the audition rooms, prepped the sides and auditioned the talent in between balancing directorial and producer roles.

6. Please tell us about the strategies you had for shooting your film.

I studied certain principles of optical illusion to play with my audience’s perceptions and expectations of the darkness during the night-time scenes. Things like Mind The Gap, Write The Script, Control The Frame, and Illusion of Free Choice were all studied and integrated into my short. I even used these principles to plant The Demon right within view of the audience and challenged festival judges to find Roy peeking out at the camera in one of the scenes. Likewise, I studied and took note of common tropes in horror genre that set up jump-scares in order to identify common practices that could be further manipulated or completely contradicted.

7. Which filmmakers influence you more than others?

I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan in general but his film Prestige and James Wan’s The Conjuring heavily influenced me specifically for Kalimba.

8. How do you see the current state of short films and what effect do you think film festivals have on short animations being seen?

I think that the industry is on the verge of a great transformation in general. From the theatrical distribution approach (cutting out the middle men and striking deals directly with franchises) to the medium of story-telling itself. Mainly with the advent of newly emerging technology like AI, Extended Reality, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. I think that if these technological advances become more accessible, film festivals will be the birthplace of more grass-roots innovation lead by this technology on various scales. Likewise, I foresee stricter policing of cinema on the horizon as well–with more delineation required for films that blur the line between computer and man-made stories.

9. What was the main purpose and message you had in mind by making Kalimba?

My goal for Kalimba was to push the boundaries of psychological horror while exploring the subject of illusion in multiple ways. More or less, allowing the audience’ curiosity to be piqued with regards to the source of The Demon that plagues Cassidy. Leaving them wondering: is The Demon real? Or is it just in her head? If it’s real, is it really the Kalimba that’s the source of her tormenting sleep paralysis–and why? I wanted to strategically select the right segment from the feature script that would give the audience a taste of major thematic elements of the story, provide enough backstory/subtext between the characters and equally allow the audience to see the demon while still leaving it on a cliffhanger that makes the audience want the full story.

10. If possible, please tell us in what field your next work is and do you plan to continue with the same character and space?

From here on out, I will be making plans to film the feature version of Kalimba; however, in the meantime, I’m also in the process of developing the Graphic Novel department of my company as well. To date, I’m collaborating with an independent manga studio named TAGLINE 9 to publish a fifty-volume sci-fi/action manga series titled The Seventh Kingdom: Fukushuu no Oukoku. The first volume is set to release towards the end of this year and can be obtained by signing up for it through our current Indiegogo campaign “T7K Fifty Day Blitz”! I’m very excited about this endeavor as it’s a new approach to story-telling and also fits within a long-time desire of mine to enter into the comics/animation industry as well.


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